| Slices of Life |

Sweet and Soft

Or maybe it was something else, something less about technique and more about mindset

Illustration: Dov-Ber Cohen

"Have some cookies. I made them for you.”

I was nine years old and this was one of the rare times I was visiting my grandparents. They lived in far-off Miami and their small apartment didn’t have room for our large, boisterous family. So we almost never visited them; they came to us several times a year instead.

Now, though, my parents had taken advantage of midwinter vacation to plan a grand trip to Disney World. Before heading to Orlando, we visited Miami and ate a meal at my grandparents’ home. I don’t remember the meal. But I do remember the cookies that my grandmother had made for her visitors. They were so dry and hard, we could barely bite into them.

But she had made them for us.

My grandmother was brittle, too.


She had grown up during the Depression and in some ways had never fully emerged from it. She went through life like she was edging around the perimeter of a yawning crater: tiptoeing along, always on the cusp of disaster. Tomorrow there might be no food, so you have to save leftover half-bowls of rice or mashed potatoes. Tomorrow there might be no money, so you couldn’t buy anything too pretty or too expensive. She would watch a little baby learning to walk with terror in her eyes, unconsciously clutching at the air as his pudgy legs marched steadily onward, petrified that he might fall.

Sometimes, when I roll cookies in confectioner’s sugar or casually brush a puffy babka with egg wash, I think of my grandmother’s dry, hard offering. I wonder what she did wrong. Maybe she overmixed the batter or left the cookies in the oven too long. Or maybe it was something else, something less about technique and more about mindset.

Cookies turn out sweet and soft when you’re generous with the sugar and the fat. But you can only ladle in the sweetness and the plumpness when you live with the security of knowing you’ll have what to eat tomorrow and the next day.

If you would have checked my grandmother’s bank account or even her wallet, I’m sure there was enough money for another bag of sugar, another box of margarine, another round of sweets and treats. But her mind could never see those purchases as logical, reasonable, or wise.

I think about the cookies that were so dry, so hard, and I realize that my grandmother couldn’t infuse them with something she just didn’t have. But she gave us what she could, the most she could offer. So we dipped those dry, brittle cookies in coffee and managed to nibble on them. Because she had made them for us.


Baila Gross is a wife, mother, and writer who lives in the Tristate area.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 830)

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